What is the course about?
Writing on the Walls part one focuses on examples of prose writing, not always straightforwardly fiction, that responded to the particular challenges of representing London in words in the 1970s and 1980s. It will provide a forum for critical interrogation of some of the acknowledged ‘great works’ (like J.G. Ballard’s Crash) to have appeared within this fraught period, while also introducing some less well-known texts, such as Iain Sinclair’s White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings.
David Anderson has studied and taught in the English Department at UCL, and is currently a research associate in the UCL Urban Lab. He received his PhD in 2018; a book based on it, entitled Landscape and Subjectivity in the Work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald and Iain Sinclair, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press. He is writer in residence at the Cob Gallery in Camden and an assistant editor at Review31.co.uk.
What will we cover?
Various key questions will structure our discussions and interrogations, such as:
• How these texts we study affect our relationship with and attitude towards London?
• If and how the idea of London as a quintessentially ‘literary’ city has been borne out in the prose of the last 40 years?
• Which texts have been more effective at capturing the ‘authentic’ experience of city life, and why?
The course plan is as follows:
Part 1 (six weeks) — 1973-1988
Sessions 1 & 2: J.G. Ballard, Crash (1973). Exploring Ballard’s distinctively morbid vision of London’s automotive peripheries, these sessions will consider Crash in the light of extracts from other Ballard texts including The Drowned World (1962), High-Rise (1975) and Kingdom Come (2006), considering among other things the role of science fiction and the tension in Ballard’s work between representation and reality.
Sessions3 &4: Iain Sinclair, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (1987). Examining the intricacies of Sinclair’s dizzying ‘psychogeographic’ writing in this whirlwind text, these sessions will also look at Sinclair’s other early ‘fiction’ and essay writing, as well as his influence on works like Alan Moore’s From Hell (1989-98) and Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor (1985).
Sessions 5 & 6 lan Hollinghurst, The Swimming Pool Library (1988). Looking at Hollinghurst’s first novel, these sessions will consider that text’s representations of sexuality and social class in late twentieth-century London, exploring its rich allusiveness and its interactions with both canonical and offbeat London fictions.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
Attest to a reasonably well-rounded critical knowledge of late twentieth century London prose, as well as having developed your skills in literary criticism and analysis.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
The course aims to be accessible to all levels of reader. Some of the texts we look at are ‘difficult’, but the deliberate use of difficulty itself as a literary technique will be one of the things we discuss!
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
Sessions will generally commence with an introduction and general discussion of the set writers and texts, building up a sense of the group’s ideas as we begin. This will be followed by guided close readings and comparison of particular passages, exploring narrative technique, characterisation, etc. Particular attention will be paid to representations of place and to discussion of texts in terms of their urban social and political contexts, with photocopied excerpts from other relevant material provided during in the sessions.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
It will be necessary to bring copies of the texts, as well as note paper and a pencil. All supplementary material (extracts and criticism) will be provided as photocopies.
The editions we will be using are as follows:
J.G. Ballard, Crash (with introduction by Zadie Smith) (Harper Perennial, 2008) ISBN 000728702X
Iain Sinclair, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (Penguin, 2004) ISBN 0141014849
Alan Hollinghurst, The Swimming-Pool Library (Vintage Classics, 2015) ISBN 1784870315.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
The follow on course will be in term two: Writing on the Walls: London Prose in the Late Twentieth Century 1989-2000 course code HLT149.
Look for other literature courses under History, Culture and Writing at www.citylit.ac.uk.
General information and advice on courses at City Lit is available from the Student Centre and Library on Monday to Friday from 12:00 – 19:00.
See the course guide for term dates and further details